Monday, October 13, 2008

Baylor Survey Finds New Perspectives On U.S. Religious Landscape

American religion is remarkably stable and quite surprising in its diverse beliefs, practices and realities, according to the latest findings from the Baylor Religion Survey, one of the most extensive surveys ever conducted on American religious attitudes.

In the follow-up to the landmark 2005 survey that revealed a majority of Americans believe in God or a higher power, the new Baylor findings - published in What Americans Really Believe by Dr. Rodney Stark (Baylor University Press, 2008) - highlight even more hot-button issues of religious life in America, such as:

• the supersizing of faith at America's Megachurches

• the "scattered" church vs. the "gathered" church
• views on God, heaven and evil
• atheism and irreligion
• religious and paranormal beliefs and experiences

In releasing their findings at a news conference in the nation's capital, the authors of the Baylor Religion Survey - Dr. Rodney Stark, Dr. Byron Johnson, Dr. Christopher Bader and Dr. Carson Mencken - said their work offers a different perspective on the depth and complexity of America's religious landscape. A total of 1,648 adults chosen randomly from across the country answered more than 350 items in the survey, which was designed by the
Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and conducted by the Gallup organization in the fall of 2007.

"Our mission with the Baylor Religion Survey is to ask deeper questions than other surveys do," said Dr. Chris Bader, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor and one of the ISR researchers. "Lots of surveys ask do you pray and how often. Very few surveys ask what you pray about. A lot of surveys ask do you believe in God, but surveys have not asked who is God? Is God angry, is God judgmental, is God friendly, is God forgiving, is He engaged with the world? We actually had people do a personality profile of God in the survey, so we can tell you not only if that person believes in God, which almost any survey can tell you, but what they think about God, what is God like and how does that characterization influence other parts of their lives. The idea was to take every question you usually see on a religion survey and try to push it several levels."

During the spring, ISR researchers analyzed responses to the questions about Americans' religious beliefs and practices. Researchers focused Wave Two of the Baylor Religion Survey on these topic modules:

• Religious strictness
• Religion and science
• Race and ethnicity
• Family and relationships

In addition, the survey authors asked questions on a host of other topics, such as mystical experiences, moral attitudes and conceptions of God.

Read the rest of this article for their initial findings.

Until next time…share the journey and enjoy the ride!